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Bad Science Journalism Gets Schooled

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the how-science-works dept.

The Media 212

TaeKwonDood writes "Biology post-doc Dr. Michael White takes a look at the '2007 Best American Science and Nature Writing' and doesn't like what he finds in an article called Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog. Turns out it's not just political writers who pick a position they want to advocate and then write stories to confirm it. Science journalism gets a scolding and it's been a long time coming."

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212 comments

Of course ... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697206)

This NEVER comes into play with controversial subjects like evolution or global warmimg. (cough)

Rather obvious (4, Insightful)

The Ancients (626689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697208)

This is quite logical, as it's human nature to do so, and not a direct result of one's career field.

Even simple background research on the authors of articles in many different fields reveal that yes, the majority of writers are biased, either consciously, or otherwise.

obvious != right (5, Insightful)

More_Cowbell (957742) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697232)

Science journalism would perhaps be the one area where you would expect the author to concisely go out of their way to be unbiased.

Re:obvious != right (2, Insightful)

kongit (758125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697562)

It would why? Grants don't just come on trees.

Re:obvious != right (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697594)

And yet, you see it all the time. For example, the article about the cook/tax dodger/inventor who came up with a perpetual motion machine which was posted on Slashdot a month or so ago. Or Pimentel's annual widely publicized reports on ethanol being energy negative, despite everyone else's studies coming up with numbers of about 30% positive. Or pretty much every article about anyone who challenges anything about global warming. It's always the plucky renegade scientist who discovered some brilliant notion that everyone in the scientific community had missed but the other scientists are too jealous/blinded by hubris in their ivory towers to see and accept what should be so obviously true to everyone else.

Re:obvious != right (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697660)

scientists are too jealous/blinded by hubris in their ivory towers to see and accept what should be so obviously true to everyone else.
If your job or grant pays well enough that you can afford to build a whole tower out of the tusks of poached exotic animals, it's not hubris to be defensive of your place in the world, it's your duty as a red blooded American.

Re:obvious != right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22698584)

"It's always the plucky renegade scientist who discovered some brilliant notion that everyone in the scientific community had missed but the other scientists are too jealous/blinded by hubris in their ivory towers to see and accept what should be so obviously true to everyone else."

Exactly. Hence, the popularity of Stephen Jay Gould. (With a little bit of rhetoric brilliance in there to boot.)

I expect the opposite.... (3, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697696)

The scientists who make the most noise are the ones with the biggest personal agendas and the ones most likely to appear in the popular press (because they're the ones constantly calling them and submitting articles).

The real problem is that the public want science to be wrong. Look at global warming, it's been known for over a hundred years, there's tens of thousands of studies which back it up but you publish one article or make one documentary which says it's wrong (eg. the Channel 4 one) and you'll have an army of followers. It's human nature.

Can you cite these? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22698150)

Can you cite these thousands of studies over one hundred of years? I am truly interested in them.

Re:I expect the opposite.... (1)

HiChris! (999553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698722)

Couple hundred years? Hardly!
Just 30 years ago people were clamoring about Global COOLING! They were afraid of the impending Ice Age - All backed up by credible Scientists. Now if you want to average annual increase/decrease over the last hundred years and say there is a trend, that is an entirely different can of worms.

Re:I expect the opposite.... (1)

The_Jeff_79 (1253736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698850)

I believe that its was around '76 that the Times had a giant front page article declaring that, based on collected data, 'Global Cooling' would be the doom of our society... Personally, I buy that over 'Global Warming'... Geological records show that the earth goes through periodic Ice Ages every 40,000 yrs or so. Fossil Records indicate that these Ice Ages are typically preceded by periods unseasonable warmth. Now, the last ice age was, ohh, roughly 40,000 years ago, and we seem to have this 'warming trend'... You do the math...

Re:Rather obvious (5, Insightful)

ChameleonDave (1041178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697238)

yes, the majority of writers are biased, either consciously, or otherwise.

More than the majority. I'd say that everyone is necessarily biased about everything, because we can never avoid the fact that we approach every issue with some sort of background or perspective.

However, there are those who are biased, and those who are biased and also throw all logic to the wind.

Re:Rather obvious (2, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698254)

However, there are those who are biased, and those who are biased and also throw all logic to the wind.

AND there are those who are biased, know they are biased, and do their best to present the other side of the story and choose neutral words...to help mitigate their bias and be as balanced as humanly possibly.

Re:Rather obvious (1)

ChameleonDave (1041178) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698324)

AND there are those who are biased, know they are biased, and do their best to present the other side of the story and choose neutral words...to help mitigate their bias and be as balanced as humanly possibly.
Well, I was kind-of counting those people in the first group — the ones who are biased but don't throw logic to the wind.

Re:Rather obvious (4, Insightful)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697258)

This is quite logical, as it's human nature to do so, and not a direct result of one's career field.
You're absolutely correct. Think of all the stories of some technological innovation you've heard that follow this same pattern. ("Everyone believed that building a kerbudle with transducing fleebs was impossible, but one lonely inventor decided to try it. [Story continues, ignoring that the inventor was paid to do the investigation, however long a shot it was deemed, by some well-known company, etc.]") Or even business: "Everyone said that Microsoft's/Apple's/Intel's/etc's hold on X market was unassailable, but this plucky [they're always plucky] little start-up set out to fight the Goliath." It's human nature and it's good story-telling, which is what sells science articles.

Question is, is there another way to tell the stories that isn't so formulaic and that doesn't give such an incorrect impression?

Actually, there is way (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697634)

"Question is, is there another way to tell the stories that isn't so formulaic and that doesn't give such an incorrect impression?"

Actually, there is a way: just stick to reporting, don't turn it into an entertaining story. We're talking science, FFS, not the Hero's Journey archetype. It's not about the everyman who discovers his calling and ends up single-handedly fighting the super-villain, it's about a more mundane process where basically they're all on the same side.

But science is boring for most people. There's really two kinds of stories that you can make out of it, that anyone outside that profession will read. (And those inside that profession already have the relevant peer-reviewed journals instead.)

A) It's a BREAKTHROUGH!!!

B) The Hero's Journey in disguise. The lone maverick who slays the dragon. (Except sometimes the climactic confrontation hasn't happened yet, so you're left to infer it.)

And unfortunately both end up used by the journos as ammo against the real science. TFA already thrashes B, so let's just say that bogus A is what PR carpet-bombs the media with.

So other than banning science completely from the non-peer-reviewed media, I can't see how that's solvable.

Or if you were merely asking if it's possible to make it entertaining without being a case of lone heroes versus tyrannical super-villains... well, maybe. But consider this: the current generation of storytellers can't even tell any story except the Hero's Journey. We could live without it very well until, IIRC, the 60's, but then all of a sudden everyone had to obey the monomyth to the letter. And if two movies are the same length, they have to have their first turning point in exactly the same minute.

So incidentally for whole classes of movies, once you figured out who's protagonist, who's antagonist, etc, you can know in advance what will happen... and in exactly what minute of the movie.

Unfortunately, ever since, that structure has been hammered into the heads of every single story teller or screenplay writer. There are course, workshops, and the knowledge that Hollywood will chuck your manuscript in the garbage bin if it doesn't fit the mold to the letter. Not many people still know how to write any other kinds of stories any more.

Re:Actually, there is way (3, Insightful)

Jens Egon (947467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698142)

So other than banning science completely from the non-peer-reviewed media, I can't see how that's solvable.

It would help if (more of) the peer reviewed media was accessible to the public.

Somebody has to pay, though.

Re:Rather obvious (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697648)

Question is, is there another way to tell the stories that isn't so formulaic and that doesn't give such an incorrect impression?
Yes: Publish papers in a journal.

Real science shouldn't be the interest of the mainstream media, which wants to fill the pages with human interest stories. Stories about science, rather than about personalities, are generally "boring" and results-oriented, and don't really belong in the mainstream press. The news media should only really need to cover a science story every so often, when a major breakthrough comes to light. (For example, the big to-do over the first discoveries of extrasolar planets. Even here, though, no more than a little blurb is really warranted; in an effort to fill space, journalists engage in a lot of navel-gazing to go into the backgrounds of the researchers involved, etc.)

I think the real problem is that the media has "science journalists" that need to justify their existence by filling "science sections" with ever-more "content." A typical bureaucrat's competition for resources.

Re:Rather obvious (1)

rmckeethen (130580) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697800)

Question is, is there another way to tell the stories that isn't so formulaic and that doesn't give such an incorrect impression?

That's an excellent question, and I think the answer is; yes, there are numerous ways to tell a good story regarding science. One slight modification to the lone-scientist-against-the-establishment narrative might be to cast the scientific method itself as the hurdle for our budding young scientist to overcome. This approach would allow the writer to detour into describing what the scientific method is and why it's important to scientists. That's one obvious avenue to better frame the story, but I suspect there are many, many other ways to better tell the tale.

However, I think the real trick in good science journalism is in writing a story that informs the average reader about what's truly happening in the scientific community. In addition, the essense of good science journalism is also in writing a story that's both accurate and entertaining for the lay reader. Truth be told, much of the ongoing work in any scientific field is difficult to understand for those not deeply involved in the subject material. I don't think it's reasonable to expect the general public to hit the science journals on a regular basis and come away with a detailed understanding of current work in the field. If the public is to have any awareness at all of what's happening in science, someone has to summarize the data and present it in a form suitable for a non-scientist to grasp. Given the myriad other pop-trash tales and lurid features Lehrer could have chosen to write about, I'm impressed that he's devoting column inches to writing about any current issue of scientific interest. While Dr. White may fault Lehrer for his formulaic approach to covering Roughgarden's work, I'm applauding the guy for at least making the attempt. He may be framing the issues in a dogmatic way, and he may be tweaking the subject material to interject a little drama into the story, but that's a minor issue I'm willing to live with given the greater good in telling the story at all.

Journalists are not scientists -- they are never going to treat scientific subjects with the asme kind of dispassionate rigor you'll find in peer-reviewed journals. Journalists are storytellers; that's their job, and it's quantifiably different from the kind of work actual scientists perform.

Re:Rather obvious (3, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698014)

Question is, is there another way to tell the stories that isn't so formulaic and that doesn't give such an incorrect impression?

Yeah. Sure -- if you're, like, good at your job.

(Though I would add that criticism like yours is what we in the media field need more of.)

Re:Rather obvious (3, Funny)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697526)

speaking of that, your post implies that you seem biased against biased people ;)

Summary is itself an example (3, Informative)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697866)

The "friendly article" is about a specific narrative, "the establishment and the underdog", not about bias. The submitter got (as always on /.) it wrong. I have no idea whether the submission is an example of stupidity, bias, or maybe a different narrative. The "they are biased" narrative is very popular on /. for some reason.

And while journalists of course have bias as everybody else, what characterize the profession is not bias (in fact, they are probably better than average at hiding it), but the search for narratives. Without a narrative, news stories will get boring, and they will lose readers (or viewers, or listeners). The term they themselves uses for a narrative is "an angle". Unlike with bias, journalists just want an angle (or narrative) in order to tell their story, they do not (in general) particularly care about what the angle is.

Re:Rather obvious (2, Interesting)

professionalfurryele (877225) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698550)

While bias is a problem, I think a larger problem is that journalists are by and large either lazy or over worked. Yes there are a few good ones, but like politicians most are caught up in the established way of doing business and either cant or wont work against it.

The problem is this. Researching a story properly (not just science), a good story, should, unless it is breaking news take anywhere up to a month to perfect. First you have to understand the field the story is in, be it science, politics etc. Most Journalists specialise so getting the basics for this process shouldn't take too long. However most journalists aren't specialised enough. Having a science correspondant with a major (or worse minor) in physics is pretty close to useless if the story is about some new technique in microbiology. So instead of needing a day to get up on the material, it should take a week. However, since you have to publish publish publish you cant afford to take that amount of time.

Now you know the facts of the story as they were relayed by the PI or one of his or her lackeys. Now you need to interview experts in the field to get a feel for how ground breaking the research is and how novel it is. Of course you don't know the field and don't have time to reseach it, so the PI gives you a list of people you can talk to about it, who through design or accident happen to be all his chums in the field. You would go and check thier credentials (beyond is their degree real) but you don't have time. So now you find out how novel the idea really is, or you find out how novel the PI's friends think it is. However you have already spent time on this and you need it to be publishable. So what do you do? Well it might stand on it's own somewhat, then you take what is probably an exciting piece of work, and you present it as though it were the golden panacea that will save the universe from the crab people. Or it turns out to be something that while important scientifically, probably wont be of much interest to the public at large. So you either find crazy cook 17 and get them to say something contraversial about how this reseach is another example of the establishment attacking their crazy idea, or you try to find some way to make it look like it runs counter to the established idiology of the evil facist scientific shadow conspiracy. Sure it's not a breakthrough but maybe it's the lone hero fighting off the dragon and having his way with the hot blond princess (oh how your article would be read more if you could only put a picture board of that happening at the bottom).

So now you have sexed it up and you write your piece. A piece you should have taken another week to understand the science of, but you have a deadline. What is worse, what took you half a day to get your vague understanding of people will only read for 3 minutes on a bus half awake on thier way to work. If you don't dumb it down even more then they are going to read about Britneys latest stupid hair cut instead. So you simplify things to the point a retarded goat could understand it. Now that the actual science content is comperable to the back of a pack of smarties, your mind turns elsewhere. As you are writing your piece you keep in mind that if you are going to avoid getting fired you have to ensure your stories get run, so you make sure regardless of the science the article reflects the axe that your editor/publisher/guy with all the money has to grind.

End result, a bias, unclear, poorly thought out piece of work, which will sell (not as well as trashy gossip, but well enough), but not inform. What is worse, if you did do things the 'right way' there would be less science in the newspapers and magazines, and what science there was, only a small number of people would read.

Bad Science? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697210)

To hell with science. What do I have to do to keep Jews, Niggers, Gypsies and Retards off my lawn?

Land mines for jewniggers and tard-o-romas. THAT'S the future, you goddamned nerds...

Re:Bad Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697256)

Fuck off and die.

Complaints about writing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697214)

Biology post-doc Dr. Michael White takes a look at the '2007 Best American Science and Nature Writing' and doesn't like what he finds in an article called Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog.

He's not the only one who has a complaint about poor writing.

Re:Complaints about writing (3, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697248)

Poor writing is one thing. The talk that there is not enough people going into science and math fields of endeavor after college might simply be a symptom of something more distasteful indicated in the article. Of course, there is the financial to consider, but there is also something else. If you thought all your work would be politicized and you left as a pawn in someone's politics, would you be happy about it? Would that inspire you to study hard to work in that field?

When there is general distrust of a group of people, all that is left to motivate others to follow their footsteps is pure greed. Lets face it, scientists are not in the top 500 richest people in the world, now are they?

The reverse side of that coin is that there is no positive image of such groups, and this is just another look at the negative. Psychology at work. It takes real dedication to commit to some field of employment that everyone thinks is corrupt or devoid of reward. Much easier to imagine yourself as a WWE wrestler than an astrophysicist when you are young. What is pointed out in a backhand way is that we are discouraging the young by no smacking down the bad ones now.

Well, that was my take

Re:Complaints about writing (3, Insightful)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697456)

The nonsense that is a Ph. D. also turns a lot of people off from a scientific career. It's sort of difficult to explain why unless you're already going (or have gone) through it, but let's just say it's nothing like anyone expects it to be. A lot of what I (and probably most others) thought was a bastion of pure innovation and discovery turns out to be a rather bureaucratic and dishonest system at work - and it wants to use you.

But that's just something that discourages those who are already considering becoming professors or scientists because they like doing research. The bigger challenge is probably encouraging people to choose a scientific career in the first place, as you mentioned.

Re:Complaints about writing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697618)

Rough parse tree, because apparently AC's point went over people's heads:

(
  (Biology post-doc Dr. Michael White)
  takes a look at
  (the '2007 Best American Science and Nature Writing')
)
and
(
  ([implied subject, Dr. White])
  doesn't like
  (what he finds in
    (an article
      (called Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog)
    )
  )
)
.

Science has always been biased (2, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697226)

If you're a Phd who has spent your whole life researching and proving something then you're likely to opposed someone proving eactly the opposite. That's just human nature and has been the downfall of many scientists including Einstein and many other greats.

That's why Max Planck said: "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

On top of personal professional bias we must now add those extra pressureses exerted on scientists to toe some line so that their funding/department/ access to publishing/whatever does not get cut. Gotta say the right stuff to keep the backers happy.

Anyone expecting unbiassed science to come out of that lot is just a misguided idealist.

Re:Science has always been biased (3, Insightful)

eli pabst (948845) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697300)

To an extent that's true, but science is science and sooner or later the facts will win out over dogma. Eventually someone is going to do the experiment that incontrovertibly proves that said underdog theory is true. Look at the prion guy. He took all kinds of shit for years, because *nobody* believed you could have an infectious protein, but eventually he won out. He can now send the haters a picture of his Noble prize.

"experiment" with Global Warming? (2, Insightful)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697434)

To an extent that's true, but science is science and sooner or later the facts will win out over dogma. Eventually someone is going to do the experiment that incontrovertibly proves that said underdog theory is true.

Certain things, although treated as science, are not really open to an experiment... And while disagreements over, say, some aspect of Cosmogony can be discussed in a friendly manner, issues like Global Warming tend to polarize people along their political persuasions...

Since academics' income depends greatly on the taxpayers' money, they tend to be Statist [wikipedia.org] and/or rather Illiberal. Hence the dominant "scientific" opinions about Global Warming predicting gloomy scenarios and demanding drastic actions — mostly from "the rich" (citizens and nations), of course. Anybody disagreeing (or even questioning) is "anti-science" (even if burning at a stake is no longer practiced) — even though no experiment could possibly be conducted on a planetary scale.

Watch angry responses to this posting for more :-)

Re:"experiment" with Global Warming? (4, Informative)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697932)

Certain things, although treated as science, are not really open to an experiment...

Certainly. It's very easy to think everything is covered under science. But, there are many things (mainly, philosophical questional) that some would try to group under science because they believe they can conjecture out an answer.

And while disagreements over, say, some aspect of Cosmogony can be discussed in a friendly manner, issues like Global Warming tend to polarize people along their political persuasions...

Perhaps you haven't heard of cosmology and WIMPs vs MACHOs? Seriously, though, people who tend to quickly polarize over Global Warming tend to do so because of the seemingly obvious ramifications of admitting whether Global Warming exists. In short, the issue has more to do with people unwilling, on both sides, to go over the evidence and accept the proof that's available and leave it at that. But, then it's the same issue that came up ages ago when discussing the racial relations (especially, any claimed superiority) of various ethnicities. And *that* issue is still unresolved because dogma can override common sense.

Since academics' income depends greatly on the taxpayers' money, they tend to be Statist and/or rather Illiberal.

Sorry to break it to you, but universities existed long before there were governments to fund them. And, they will continue to exist long after governments refuse to fund them. Academics, in general, are interested in their work above all else. Now, this may lead to dogma and pet theories without any evidence. But, that doesn't translate into trying to sustain a revenue stream (well, at least, it only does so in the sense of funding their research, not in padding the academic's pocketbook). And sure, there are academics who are in it for the money, just like there are charlatens in any field. But, there isn't any evidence (at least, none I'm aware of) to hint at some sort of inherent academic conspiracy, no matter how good such conjecturing looks good on paper.

Hence the dominant "scientific" opinions about Global Warming predicting gloomy scenarios and demanding drastic actions mostly from "the rich" (citizens and nations), of course.

Or, people with evidence they think will be helpful are trying to warn people of the potential risks of merrily continuing our current actions. Most, realizing they *don't* know the long-term consequences (at least for humanity) of what happens if we continue, urge those with the most power to effect change (citizens and through them, their nations) to effect change. Of course, they realize they can't do much (at least, not without advocating military force) to push "the poor" countries or dictatorships to do the right thing. So, the tend to focus on "the rich".

Anybody disagreeing (or even questioning) is "anti-science" (even if burning at a stake is no longer practiced) even though no experiment could possibly be conducted on a planetary scale.

We're already engaging in an experiment on a planetary scale (you know, burning all that oil, coal, etc). And it happens that people are constantly making predictions based on those fossil fuels burned and how that affects the global climate. And all those scientists with their measurements of ocean CO2 absorption, temperature stations, measurements of ice sheets, etc all provide the data to confirm or deny those predictions. The only real question, then, is if the people on either side are actually looking at the theories that repeatedly pass and the evidence collected (to verify that it does, in fact, not contradict the theory). And if one side, after seeing the evidence, dismisses it based upon their own beliefs without any proof, then they are being anti-science. But, that says nothing about Global Warming.

Watch angry responses to this posting for more :-)

I'll try to be more angry next time.

Re:Science has always been biased (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698060)

The confusion can last years, decades, even centuries. Take the human genome work: a lot of that work is of only modest reliability, or was prone to systematic errors in the computer programs used to analyze the DNA. But the process of going back and correcting it is going to take a quite long time, especially when the companies that published it are now out of business or lack the current knowledge to realize there was a serious bug in code 10 years old, and no one is really pursuing that particular gene or set of genes.

Re:Science has always been biased (2, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697302)

we must now add those extra pressureses
We HATES them, the nassssssty pressureses!

Re:Science has always been biased (5, Insightful)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697354)

If you're a Phd who has spent your whole life researching and proving something then you're likely to opposed someone proving eactly the opposite.
This is true to some extent, but it glosses over another even more important point: most newly proposed theories are wrong. (It's a lot like mutations in evolutionary biology.) Many of the theories are still-born, never making it past someone's blackboard before they're shot down, but quite a few get floated. Some get floated quite adamantly by their adherents. A few are better than the older models. After even a little while in science, you see the ratio and it's natural to want to stick to the tested theory until the new guy has been able to provide some strong evidence for itself.

That's sort of the rub, though, isn't it? Only a few new theories which suplant the old model do so with a really compelling single test. We can think of a few of the exceptions: General Relativity and the 1919 eclipse, the Big Bang (which was already pretty widely accepted, but never mind) and the discovery of the CMB, the giant impact theory of the origin of the Moon and the numerical simulations of the 1980s, etc. But these *are* the exceptions. Most theories which will eventually take over do so by slow accumulation of evidence in their favor, not with any slam dunk. As a result, convincing scientists to abondon the older model is difficult and there's no magic cut-off where you can say, "Now the new theory is better than the old one." So are the scientists being bad at science? Sure, it's easy to spin the narrative that way, but I'd say no. They're at worst being conservative and not wanting to leap onto a new model until they see that it's really better.

Anyone expecting unbiassed science to come out of that lot is just a misguided idealist.
Now I feel like you're being insulting. Individual scientists are human, we have our flaws and our blind-spots. Some of us have real agendas and a few are even downright dishonest. But as a group, we're contradictory, curious, and anti-authority. As a result, science is pretty good at self-correcting. A single scientist can lie to himself or even lie to others. But that always gets caught eventually because someone starts asking questions and we collectively have no vested interest in covering up lies.

(Any time you hear about scientists being involved in a massive conspiracy, like some anti-global warming fanatics will try to tell you, you can bet it's wrong. Any person who could prove evolution or GW conclusively incorrect would have just made a career and world-wide fame for herself.)

Re:Science has always been biased (3, Informative)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698032)

Only a few new theories which suplant the old model do so with a really compelling single test. We can think of a few of the exceptions: General Relativity and the 1919 eclipse,
Actually that one got more credit than it deserved. The error bars on that result were huge, and it's now questionable whether Eddington's experiment was able to distinguish general relativity from competing predictions, such as the Newtonian prediction of half the light bending. (To forestall possible comments from others, yes, Newtonian gravity predicts light bending for zero mass photons.) An interesting example of the opposite phenomenon: a new theory being hailed perhaps too eagerly. (On the other hand, there was also Mercury's perihelion precession.)

Re:Science has always been biased (2, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698814)

Now I feel like you're being insulting. Individual scientists are human, we have our flaws and our blind-spots. Some of us have real agendas and a few are even downright dishonest. But as a group, we're contradictory, curious, and anti-authority. As a result, science is pretty good at self-correcting. A single scientist can lie to himself or even lie to others. But that always gets caught eventually because someone starts asking questions and we collectively have no vested interest in covering up lies.

I think one of the problems is few people ever meet, let alone work around, world class scientists. If they did they'd discover they are like world class athletes - the revel in competition, the battle of ideas in their case, and the give and take to prove that they are the best. Surprisingly, even those with diametrically opposed positions can remain close friends; just as professional athletes can compete fiercely in a game and still be great friends.

In the end, the best ideas win; even if it takes time.

(Any time you hear about scientists being involved in a massive conspiracy, like some anti-global warming fanatics will try to tell you, you can bet it's wrong. Any person who could prove evolution or GW conclusively incorrect would have just made a career and world-wide fame for herself.)


That's the problem with conspiracy theories - people want to believe them and so refuse to accept that those involved have a greater gain by revealing it and so would do so if the theory were true. Or, as one person put it, two people can keep a secret if one is dead.

Re:Science has always been biased (2, Insightful)

MidnightBrewer (97195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697356)

If you're a Phd who has spent your whole life researching and proving something then you're likely to opposed someone proving eactly the opposite. That's just human nature and has been the downfall of many scientists including Einstein and many other greats.

More than just human nature, it makes sense. If I believe strongly that something is the truth, then it seems only logical that I'd oppose somebody who says that my theory is completely wrong. Also, I think that Max Planck might have been being just a bit facetious in the quote you mentioned; while powerful, wrong-headed opponents may be the bane of every great endeavor, simply waiting for them to die still doesn't make you right. If you die first, it doesn't make you wrong, either. Scientific truths win out because they continue to be true. The scientific method may not serve the personal ambitions of fame-seeking individuals very well, but it does tend to work out pretty well for the advancement of science, even if the undeserving-yet-better-funded end up getting all the credit.

Re:Science has always been biased (2, Interesting)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697450)

If you had actually read the article, the gentleman's point was that the journalism is wrong, not that bias doesn't exist. Critics wrote papers not to defend some scientific truth, but to improve both ideas, by reconciling the two. They point out that her paper's explanation of sexual selection misses published advances in scientific understanding, and suggest ways the existing formulas can be tweaked to accommodate the new theory.

Even you're buying into this fallacy that the two ideas must be exclusive, which is rather the point of the article: journalists reinforce a publicly held stereotype of underdog scientists bucking the status quo. Your justifications of bias through funding and hubris are a direct result of this stereotype. I don't see anyone being paid to support a position that monolithic kernels are better than microkernels, or vice versa. Individuals do have a personal bias in favor of their ideas, after all, they came up with them and thought well enough of them to write their scientific friends about it. But to imply that science takes a generation to be accepted is probably not quite right.

Re:Science has always been biased (1)

PacMan (15605) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697652)

If you're a Phd who has spent your whole life researching and proving something then you're likely to opposed someone proving eactly the opposite.
Except it rarely comes to a complete reversal like that. Generally the next guy is going "You were 99% correct. Here is a minor adjustment that brings it to what I think is 100% correct". Or perhaps "Your theory gives results correct to 10 significant figures in all real world cases. However, using my much more complicated equations, we can now get answers to 15 significant figures, and cover some extremely unlikely situations that your equations did not handle at all".

Re:Science has always been biased (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697794)

It's actually all a conspiracy to build myths about scientific discovery and careers in science in order to make scientists more competitive.

Live the dream!

Par for the course (5, Interesting)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697230)

This is merely par for the course... and the observations made in the TFA are not new either. I encounter them every day on Slashdot!

HIV not causing AIDS conspiracy, Fluoride in the water conspiracy, Cancer being cured but evil corporations in league with all scientists not releasing the cure... I have to endure this every single day.

I think the more interesting subject to explore, is the psychology of why people are so eager to believe the improbable, and far more likely to accept an outrageous exaggeration, a halftruth, or an outright lie, merely to spite the establishment. As a scientist, that's a subject that interests me the most, because I would like to locate the part of the brain that will believe that the herbs in "Airborne" will miraculously prevent you from getting a disease, but will refuse to accept scientific principles and facts that have held firm under scrutiny for decades.

Re:Par for the course (1)

Alexx K (1167919) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697288)

For one thing, people usually don't like admitting they're wrong. If they believe in something that is proven to be false, they will lash out in a desperate attempt to defend and maintain their beliefs.

Re:Par for the course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697390)

... space elevators and "global warming" dogma.

Re:Par for the course (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697474)

but will refuse to accept scientific principles and facts that have held firm under scrutiny for decades.

The answer is so obvious, that you are doing it yourself- rejecting the facts for an alternative conspiracy (ie. seeking some obscure "part of the brain").

People are just dumb, and they want easy answers. That's all.

Future Slashdot story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697480)

I encounter them every day on Slashdot!
Future Slashdot story:

Microsoft causes cancer!!!1!
posted by kdawson
from the see-they're-eeeeevil dept.

A new study shows that Microsoft products cause cancer. If you add up all the people with cancer who use M$ products and all the people who use Mac OS X, you notice a startling trend: There are more people who use Windows and have cancer than those who use Mac!!! That's right, this must mean that M$ causes cancer, and we have reason to believe that Bill Gates [answers.com] and Steve Ballmer [answers.com] are doing it on purpose. You know, the man throws chairs at little old ladies and kittens.

In fact, another independent study shows the exact same trend for AIDS! And for multiple sclerosis! Really, Microsoft and multiple sclerosis have the exact same initials. Coincidence? Not a freaking chance, they're directly linked.

And you know what else? Global warming. Thats right. The more Windows running machines there are, the warmer the planet gets. As more Windows machines are built, you know what else is happening? Species are going extinct. Windows machines and rain forests/endangered species are inversely proportional. Just look at the numbers yourself, its all true! It's all part of M$'s evil plan to be...evil!

In other news, Linus Torvalds [answers.com] is working on a new Linux distro that will end world hunger, and Steve Jobs's [answers.com] new OS will make you live forever.

It's fake, everybody (4, Funny)

Headcase88 (828620) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697714)

Not a single obvious spelling mistake.

Re:Par for the course (1, Insightful)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697548)

I would say that a lot of comes from the fact that people who are supposed to be experts are routinely caught lying, and actual, real live conspiracies are regularly exposed with not even an apology. A perfect example is the whole Al Gore Fiasco. He flat out says that you can reduce your carbon output to 0. That would require you to stop breathing, and either complete the decomposition process, or die in a place where you will be permanently frozen. His entire movie was full of errors and contradictions. Yet, he won a Nobel Peace Prize for it, and it is held up as an authority on the subject. People who point out these errors are often called names, ridiculed, and in essence shouted down.

When people are lied to... badly by someone being held up as an 'expert', and then are shouted down for pointing out the obvious lie (error?), they are very quickly going to start questioning everyone that is held up as an 'expert'. I know that I hear 'experts' saying things that are clearly wrong on a regular basis.

You then have to add this tendency for 'experts' to be wrong/lie, with the fact that most people are raised to believe in the supernatural. Whether it is Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, Jesus, Allah, or any other supernatural figure. Heck, their are entire countries that are ruled by the belief in the supernatural, and even in questionably secular countries like the US, there are more facilities for the study of the supernatural than their are schools.

So, to sum up... The reason you see what you are complaining about is because we are a nation of people who have been trained to believe in magic, and are regularly shown that being an 'expert' in no way indicates that what you are saying is true. What else could you expect?

Re:Par for the course (1)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697680)

Did Gore really say that we could reduce our carbon emissions to 0? Because I just farted, and I'm pretty sure that that was a carbon emission.

On a more serious note, I don't really find the "supernatural" to be irreconcilable with science. Science just emphasizes the parts of the world that we can understand through logic. The only contract one signs when they become a scientist is that they will not bring up questions which are not scientifically verifiable. The biggest one that comes to mind for me is that of Tarot cards seeming to reveal truths about lives or persons. This is not at all scientifically verifiable, but it's fun sometimes to accept it.

A world without science would be bleak, but a world of nothing but science would also be bleak.

Re:Par for the course (1)

aztektum (170569) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697662)

Because it's easier to accept a halftruth that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside rather than a reality that suffering or not getting what your want all the time is a part of life.

Exploration over. Where's my grant check :)

Re:Par for the course (1)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698066)

I think the more interesting subject to explore, is the psychology of why people are so eager to believe the improbable, and far more likely to accept an outrageous exaggeration, a halftruth, or an outright lie, merely to spite the establishment.

It's called anti-authoritarianism. Science is seen as the establishment. People are seen as sheep to follow the dogma of science blindly; and most people do, but as an exchange between Dogbert and Dilbert went, people are too busy to conduct enough science to adequately not rely upon others to do the work for them. Beyond that, it's prohibitively expense (in fact, it pretty well always has been) for most individuals to confirm or deny most of science. In fact, it's not really any different than the way people will scoff at religions which demand enormous time and commitment to decipher, feeling that such is more of a scam to grant those in charge needless power instead of it being a path to enlightenment.

... I would like to locate the part of the brain that will believe that the herbs in "Airborne" will miraculously prevent you from getting a disease, but will refuse to accept scientific principles and facts that have held firm under scrutiny for decades.

"I would like to locate the part of the mind that will believe the Earth revolves around the sun but will refuse to accept Catholic doctrine and truth that have held firm under scrutiny for centuries. (circa, the 1600s)"

Having said all that, there are of course those who do do enough science and do realize that most (if not all) of science is well tested and have done enough of their own experiments to not simply dismiss science like it were an unchangeable cult/religion* or as something that puts itself above being challenged**. So, there are those who fight the establishment because it is the establishment because they have some belief that it is something they should do. And, of course, there are the stupid people who reject science in small or large part in favor of their faith, even when nothing in their faith really demands it. And, of course, there are the stupid people who see science as everything and reject the potential for something beyond what one can readily sense. But, thankfully most people seem more than willing to sit back and do nothing, not so pressed to push their beliefs on others. I'm not sure if that's wisdom or apathy, though.

*Obviously, Catholicism has changed over time, but over the course of a lifetime, most religions aren't open to change. If they were, that would imply they don't have all the answers and hence aren't an established source of guidance. In short, religions tend to try to be something beyond a collection of mortal humans, so they try to project something unchanging and immortal (the religion, I'm not talking about their god(s) necessarily); small differences in interpretation can lead to whole new forks of a religion. And truthfully, those who live long enough will almostly certainly see a change in the religion of their church as younger individuals replace older, dying individuals and project a slightly different interpretation of things (even if everyone wanted to believe the same thing, the ambiguity of language makes it virtually impossible considering the vastness of religion and the difficulty of quantifying and qualifying every detail in an unchanging format (the language itself changes)). The same holds true for science (the mechanisms like the scientific method, for example), which has forked and changed over time as well.

**There are certainly many scientists (I don't want to presume most, but I wouldn't say scientists are intrisincally utterly open-minded) who look down upon those would challenge basic theories (like, say, gravity), feeling their intellectually feeble; but, they wouldn't likely do anything overt or covert about them carrying out their experiment or trying to publish their results.

You can blame that on the press too (4, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698082)

Well, ironically, a large part of that can be blamed on the press too. There's this whole bombardment of stories telling Joe Sixpack that science is a clique of self-appointed arse clowns. In no particular order:

1. The lone researcher vs the evil establisment stories, like in TFA. Invariably the establishment is evil, you know. Well, these stories are just ammo then for the quacks, who are invariably all too eager to present themselves as that oppressed underdog.

2. PR-sponsored and -wrote "breakthrough" stories, the sillier and more contradictory the better. "Chocolate is good for you! Cocoa beans have valuable enzymes!" (Yes, but they're no longer present in chocolate.) "Wine is even better!" "No it's not!" "Scientists prove: Beer is better than both!!!" Etc. If you can't distinguish those from real science, and Joe Sixpack can't, it looks like "science" is just a bunch of guys saying contradictory things and telling you one day that X is good, and the next that Y is bad. That what passes for bulletproof science one day, is disproved the next day, so you might as well ignore the whole clown posse.

3. Probably the most damaging: the fucked-up idea of journalistic impartiality. See, the idea is that impartiality means presenting two conflicting views as equals, without taking sides. So if you run a story about, say, why vaccines are good, you have to also find a quack or two to go, "no they're not!!! They cause autism!!! They kill your immune system!!! Buy our 100% natural and hollistic snake oil instead!!!" And present the two as equal. It's not that one of them is bogus, it's that it's a "controversy", see. Taking sides and telling people which one is backed by solid evidence, well, that would violate that impartiality.

This creates a false image of, well, everything being equal and equally unproved and dubious. Everything is a controversy. The Nobel prize winner in that corner of the ring is just about as likely to be right or wrong, as the quack with the fake diploma bought on the internet in the other corner. So you can take your own pick. If you want to believe the earth is flat, go ahead, even that is probably a controversy.

Re:Par for the course (3, Interesting)

jay-za (893059) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698176)

I think the more interesting subject to explore, is the psychology of why people are so eager to believe the improbable, and far more likely to accept an outrageous exaggeration, a halftruth, or an outright lie, merely to spite the establishment.
Not having explored this more than looking at my own willingness to believe some things, what I've found is that in many instances the establishment (or more specifically, doctors and scientists) are responsible for pushing people down this road.

That above statement needs some qualification, so here's what I've come up with (for myself). People who work in the scientific field (for convenience I'll refer to them as scientists, even through I'm referring to doctors, dentists, ...) often (and I'm going to generalise because it's been something I've noticed in general. Tihs does not apply to everyone) seem to be very scared of saying "I don't know", or admitting that another (alternative) field of study may have got it right, or at least more right than mainstream science. This leads to a situation where the scientists (doctors, physicists, etc...) will slam things they don't believe in as being wrong simply because they don't like the field of study that produced the result.

Add to that the fact that science is not absolute, and ,especially in medicine, breakthroughs happen fairly frequently that move the field forward and at the same time prove previous theories to be untrue (or at least substantially imcomplete). When scientists (who slam people who disagree with them) claim this week that X=2Y, and then next week that X=2Y + 1/Z, the lay person loses confidence in them.

It's this lack of confidence that leads people to trust pretty much anytihng that is fed to them, as long as it fits the following criteria:

1) Sounds believable
2) The person presenting the evidence seems trustworthy
3) The evidence being presented is convincing enough to the lay person
4) The new theory ("fact") is something they want to believe

Additionally, scientists often see themselves (or at least, well known members of their community) as being infallible (to a degree), and expect the average lay person to believe everything they say without proof (and here I mean proof that the lay person understands). This is an unrealistic expectation. Scientists themselves will not believe experts in other conflicting areas of study (who often are hucksters and frauds, but not always) because they don't understand the evidence presented. What I'm saying here is that people in general don't like being forced to accept as proof something they don't understand, whether ot not it is true.

Exacerbating the problem is the entire issue of religion and faith. I believe in God. I also believe in science (and believe those who hide behind religion are idiots). The two are not mutually exclusive, in fact, to me they compliment each other perfectly. Yet many scientists (and here I'm talking less about doctors and other "soft" scientists, and perhaps only a vocal minority of the rest) are critical of me and others like me who believe in God. This adds to the lack of credibility in their eyes. (Please bear in mind that we are talking perspectives here, perhaps helping to explain a perception. This is not a war of God Vs. Science).

I think the only solution here is for scientists to be more open about what they do and don't know, as well as developing a more measured approach to dealing with things they are unfamiliar with. It definitely won't make the problem go away, but it will help.

And finally, don't forget that there are many, many thousands and millions of idiots out there.

Re:Par for the course (1)

gsslay (807818) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698698)

The bottom line is that people in general love conspiracy theories. They love the idea that someone out there, some where, is trying to suppress knowledge/liberty/happiness. That's what explains why life (and theirs in particular) isn't wonderful and perfect, and we're not all living together in harmony on the planet as god intended. It is, in short, the easy answer that makes a good 90 minute movie.

And it gets even better than that; people love being the ones in on the secret. Yup, the poor, ignorant masses may not realise that knowledge/liberty/happiness is being suppressed, but I, for one, do! Cos I'm smart, see?

So the idea that "big science" is suppressing development, that would otherwise open our eyes and improve life, fits perfectly with this mind set. Same as "big medicine" is lying to us about alternative treatments and "big government" is suppressing the truth about UFOs/9-11/Apollo/JFK/chem trails/you name it.

Politically Correct bias? (4, Interesting)

grassy_knoll (412409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697252)

Given the example in the article, and this quote:

What gets lost is the scientific method, the idea that novel proposals need to be thoroughly vetted and tested, no matter how intuitively attractive they are.


Perhaps the bias in reporting is due to the "intuitive attractiveness" of the conclusion?

The opposite might be true as well. For instance, I didn't hear much about this study [wikipedia.org] :

In recent years, Putnam has been engaged in a comprehensive study of the relationship between trust within communities and their ethnic diversity. His conclusion based on over 40 cases and 30 000 people within the United States is that, other things being equal, more diversity in a community has a correlation [expressed as a beta equal to 0.04 in a multiple regression analysis (see Putnam, 2007)], to less trust both between and within ethnic groups. Although only a single study, limited to American data, and the Census tract Herfindahl Index of Ethnic Homogeneity only explaining 0.16 % of the variance in trust in neighbours in the regression model presented (Putnam, 2007) it claims to put into question both contact theory and conflict theory in inter-ethnic relations. According to conflict theory, distrust between the ethnic groups will rise with diversity, but not within a group. According to contact theory, distrust will decline as members of different ethnic groups get to know and interact with each other. Putnam describes people of all races, sex and ages as "hunkering down" and going into their shells like a turtle. For example, he did not find any significant difference between 90 year olds and 30 year olds.


You'd think a Harvard professor saying in effect that diversity has a down side might be news worthy, unless that idea isn't attractive to the majority of the news media.

Re:Politically Correct bias? (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697516)

You'd think a Harvard professor saying in effect that diversity has a down side might be news worthy, unless that idea isn't attractive to the majority of the news media.
Is it really news? I'd have thought that the existence of such downsides should have been perfectly obvious who has opened their eyes. Indeed, the interesting discovery from that article seems to be that the downsides aren't quite as existing theories suggested, not the mere fact that downsides exist.

The trouble is we're all perched on this rather small rock so there doesn't seem to have much choice but to try and get along in one way or another.

Perhaps we could try to wall ourselves off from those not like us but the downsides to that action seem to be significant too.

Re:Politically Correct bias? (1)

shark swooner (1077115) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697538)

Thousands and thousands of studies get published every week. That one didn't get picked up by the media doesn't prove anything, much less a general bias.

Re:Politically Correct bias? (2, Interesting)

ZombieRoboNinja (905329) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697888)

I'm not even sure those results make sense.

What the hell is "diversity" in this case? My high school was 96% white, but by 1900 standards it would probably be incredibly "diverse," with folks of English, German, Polish, Irish, and even (gasp!) Jewish "descent" intermingling. But ironically, once this "diversity" reaches a critical mass and a few generations pass, it all gets folded into the norm and nobody considers it "diverse" anymore.

So if this guy's right and "diversity" has a caustic effect on community, we need to hurry up and start making babies with people of other races so that racial "diversity" is no longer discernible in a generation or two. (Attractive nonwhite ladies, I'm ready to do my part.)

Anyway, I've seen plenty of science reporting with the same flaws TFA pointed out that had no "political correctness" value at all - stuff about mathematical constants in astrophysics, etc. - all using the same "underdog" theme.

what do you expect? (4, Insightful)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697266)

  1. The people who have the qualifications to understand scientific papers (the ones with science education) can usually get better-paying jobs in science, rather than science journalism.
  2. Worse, our society as a whole is anti-intellectual and specifically anti-scientific. This does not only apply to the readers: many people who study journalism have a weak science background. As long as society can accept someone as "educated" who cannot explain how a refrigerator works, or accept some definitions and follow a mathematical proof based on them, it is hardly surprising that science writers and readers can't understand a scientific argument.
  3. Today's readers are trying to be entertained, not be informed. A piece that reinforces the reader's prejudices will make the reader feel good, and hence buy more copies of the publication.

For an example for the second point, remember the "gravity-powered lamp [vt.edu] " concept that was advertized last month? I saw several independent write-ups in newspapers all repeating the canard of "this will work if only we have better LED technology" when an elementary calculation shows that even with 100% efficient lighting elements the lamp will need to weigh about a ton.

Re:what do you expect? (1)

n6kuy (172098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697360)

> remember the "gravity-powered lamp"

Did you notice the "Feb. 21 Update" on that article?

While many people want to know when the lamp will be available, many others point out that it won't actually work.

The criticism is that a great deal of weight -- tons -- would be required and current LEDs are not sufficiently efficient.

Designer Clay Moulton acknowledges that the current state of the art isn't sufficient to actually build the lamp. The news release should have said: "based on future developments in LED technology."


Even though they acknowledge that others have criticized the design on the amount of weight required to make the lamp work, the news release goes on to correct itself only in the matter of "future developments of LED technology."

It's not just a river in Egypt.

Re:what do you expect? (1)

l2718 (514756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697398)

Even though they acknowledge that others have criticized the design on the amount of weight required to make the lamp work, the news release goes on to correct itself only in the matter of "future developments of LED technology."

Did you read my comment? you seem to have missed the point entirely. It's true that with current LED technology, the lamp would weight tons. However, current technology is already pretty good: it converts about 10% of the incoming energy to light. A 100% efficient LED from the future will only require one-tenth the energy, but one-tenth of many tons is still about a ton. It's true that a future LED that outputs about a thousand times more light than the energy put into it would work well, but I think we can agree that writing about technology which egeegiously violates the law of conservation of energy should be thought of as science fiction, not science journalism.

Re:what do you expect? (1)

Asic Eng (193332) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698544)

I think he understands perfectly - read the sentence you quoted again with emphasis on "even though" and "only".

Re:what do you expect? (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697596)

The people who have the qualifications to understand scientific papers (the ones with science education) can usually get better-paying jobs in science, rather than science journalism.

Just thought it worth repeating. Nevermind the intentional fibbing - when you write about things you do not have a decent grasp of, dumb analogy is almost inevitable... Think slashdot car analogies that aren't even funny.

But how are we to train science writers?

That's Not Kuhn (4, Informative)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697280)

Kuhn is very very explicit about the normal state of science being the evolutionary expansion of the paradigm/work within the paradigm. It's only when the extremely rare paradigm shift occurs that there is an overturning of the established order. Even there Kuhn seems to think these shifts often occur because the strain on the previous paradigm grows too great to sustain, i.e., a wide variety of experiments taken together require such unsatisfying explanations that the paradigm is overthrown for a new one.

I think it would be more appropriate to say that Kuhn is mostly rejecting the idea of science proceding via revolutions. The sort of view that preceded Kuhn was that science proceeds by formulating hypothesises which in turn are overthrown should they be contradicted by experiment. Thus Kuhn is actually arguing against the idea that science primarily progresses via the disproof of the prevailing view.

In fact I think it's a fair interpretation to say that Kuhn does not even believe there is an objective fact of the matter of which paradigm is better. It's quite clear that Kuhn holds out evolutionary expansion of the paradigm to be the stereotypical example of progress in science.

It is the common *misreading* of Kuhn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697466)

Everything that you say is correct and irrelevant. People without exposure to science read Kuhn's book and notice that the really big ideas were all paradigm shifts. Everything that Kuhn said about the value of working within a paradigm notwithstanding, the message that truly great things happen with a paradigm shift echoed so strongly that the phrase "paradigm shift" entered our language with the message that everyone should try to jump aboard the next paradigm shift.

Yes, I am fully aware how far off this is from Kuhn's message. And Kuhn himself had enough science background that I'm sure he personally appreciated the self-evident truth of his descriptions of normal science, and he must have thought that he had sufficiently addressed the importance of having a field coalesce around then work within a paradigm.

But no matter what he intended or how clear he was, there is no question that most people misread Kuhn. And what they misread it as saying was that paradigm shifts are good, and scientific progress happens through paradigm shifts.

Not sure (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697982)

Not sure if this is entirely on topic, so I'll AC it, and not actually quote it. It's by Asimov, so enjoy :) http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm [tufts.edu]

I, for one, ... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697348)

... welcome our new underdog overlords.

scientists aren't good at communicating (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697368)

there are some luminous exceptions. carl sagan. stephen jay gould

but most are, frankly, asocial. they would rather exercise their minds in the pursuit of science. actually explaining what they do to other people is a drag and a waste of time. not that you can blame them. this ability to tune out the rest of the world and engage their mind in silence is actually a very valuable skill for a scientist, and it is a mindset that probably led them to science in the first place as a life pursuit

the result is that those with a malicious antiscience agenda or those who simply mean well but are woefully misinformed are the ones who represent science. because the information that gets out there in general circulation is not the information that is most true, but the information that is most communicated. the antidote to this unfortunate status quo is to get some scientists out of the ivory tower and up on a soap box

the monklike state of existence of many scientists, to investigate and research in silence, and then the looking down disdainfully upon the common man and his mispercetions: this is part of the problem. this anti-populist attitude of many scientists is part of the problem. an arrogance, a classism, an us-versus-them way of looking at the world. it is the lack of communication efforts of scientists themselves that leads to the dangerous and stupid ideas many common people swallow in the first place

so who do i blame for bad science journalism? scientists themselves. for generally not making themselves available. the ultimate antidote would be for some of you brilliant but silent minds to clear your throat for once, and finally speak up

stephen jay gould and carl sagan have left us. some luminous mind out there: please open your mouth and fill their shoes

Re:scientists aren't good at communicating (4, Insightful)

going_the_2Rpi_way (818355) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697484)

I'm not so sure this is valid any more (and maybe it never was). Generations of scientist are trained to communicate from the earliest parts of their training -- believe it or not, lots of emphasis is placed on this. What scientists are not good at are sound-bites that fit nicely in on shows like Crossfire or Lou Dobbs where the 'we were attacked!' or 'we're losing jobs' or 'NAFTA!' 10 second catchphrases that feel awfully good but don't stand up to scrutiny generally prevail. But that's ok, science isn't meant to be good at that. It's meant to be able to say 'we're not sure', 'this is our best available knowledge' and, oh yeah, 'our previous best theory was wrong in several respects'. The public isn't good at listening to tempered, well-balanced arguments. And when 'luminous minds' DO speak up -- say, a bunch of nobel laureates put together a one page ad against economic folly (remember that one?) or Jared Diamond writes a book titled 'Collapse' -- who listens? And more importantly, who listens enough to suffer short term financial hardship because those minds tell them they'll lose more in the long run.

Re:scientists aren't good at communicating (2, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698448)

"Generations of scientist are trained to communicate from the earliest parts of their training - "

I would disagree. They are trained to communicate with other scientists, not to just anyone. So "communication" in this context is a vague term, what really needs to be done are studies on how to break down complex topics into vocabulary that people can understand to get the main principles and points across without alienating them. I find it quite curious that scientists have yet to learn from marketing and politics in making 'marketable' people and messages. There are scientists who study this to be sure, but there aren't that many actually communicating that way despite being part of the discpline.

Re:scientists aren't good at communicating (1)

SMITHEE (26773) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697536)

Also, many scientists don't want to offend the media by naming someone in the media as a liar. In some cases, they see the media as important in getting out word of their cause. In other cases, they simply don't want to get in a fight with an entity which buys ink by the barrel. As a result, when they speak up at all, scientists are usually way too gentle in calling out dishonest writers.

Re:scientists aren't good at communicating (3, Insightful)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697632)

"the monklike state of existence of many scientists, to investigate and research in silence, and then the looking down disdainfully upon the common man and his mispercetions: this is part of the problem. this anti-populist attitude of many scientists is part of the problem. an arrogance, a classism, an us-versus-them way of looking at the world. it is the lack of communication efforts of scientists themselves that leads to the dangerous and stupid ideas many common people swallow in the first place"

That's quite the caricature. I've been employed as a scientist for going on a decade now, and your depiction of John/Jane Q. Scientist works for only a tiny minority of the people I've worked with. I've worked with a hippies, hipsters, single moms, Norman Rockwell-esque family types, religious people, nonreligious people, sports fanatics, geeks, barflies, rednecks, people of all different races, colors, creeds, nationalities, and in general a wide, wide slice of humanity. Maybe you ought to not paint a group of people with a wide brush until you've at least met one or two of them first.

Re:scientists aren't good at communicating (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697646)

the monklike state of existence of many scientists, to investigate and research in silence, and then the looking down disdainfully upon the common man and his mispercetions: this is part of the problem. this anti-populist attitude of many scientists is part of the problem. an arrogance, a classism, an us-versus-them way of looking at the world. it is the lack of communication efforts of scientists themselves that leads to the dangerous and stupid ideas many common people swallow in the first place

So... scientists are people like most others...

so who do i blame for bad science journalism? scientists themselves. for generally not making themselves available. the ultimate antidote would be for some of you brilliant but silent minds to clear your throat for once, and finally speak up

That's why the writers who have the time and the writing skills do the writing. That goes for most other professions - accounts, lawyers, engineers, etc.

Btw, the PR profession, whose points it to yak to public, puts all these points upside down.

Plays into the hands of global warming denial (2, Interesting)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697428)

It is unfortunate that this tendency plays right into the hands of global warming deniers. When applied to that controversy, the whole debate becomes a he-said-she-said that takes place in the absence of any evidence (or, to be precise, in the absence of reporting of evidence). That is to say, most deniers' arguments fall apart at even cursory comparison with actual evidence, but by then, the story is already published.

Yes (1)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697954)

If you read the blog rather than the (as always) misleading summary, it is a very good match to global warming denial. There is the underdog with some alternate explanation (volcanic activity, cosmic radiation, whatever) against the huge global climate change establishment.

It is a good story, that merely ignores how science works.

What scientific perspective is most profitable ? (1)

FromTheAir (938543) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697444)

Sometimes it might come down to what scientific perspective is the most profitable.

Scientists are fond of coming up with things that need to be researched to create work. Sometimes it is bogus stuff.

The researcher of course, if he discovers a cure, is out of a job, so they are always looking for that cure just around the corner. The truth is we already have it but it is not that profitable, rather we need a pill they can pop and we can patent.

Quite often the so called scientific bodies and organizations are funded by industry and they tend to reflect the bias of the funding entities. Like the cereal companies that funded the determination of the RDA or MDR. We can see the problem of pseudo science in that the RDA for Vitamin C for laboratory monkeys is much higher than the one for humans. Because sick monkeys are not profitable the reverse of what is found with sick humans.

Who really needs the scolding? (2, Interesting)

Geak (790376) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697446)

I'm pretty sure it's the people funding the science journalists that need a boot to the head. For instance, in our new world of energy efficient political correctness, I recently read an article about a study that was done to prove that laptops use less power when they are in sleep mode. Ummm.... really, isn't that what sleep mode was designed for? You needed a study to prove that? So we're all supposed to keep our laptops in sleep mode instead of doing something productive? How about we fund a study to prove that your laptop accomplishes far less when it's in sleep mode. Better yet, how about a study to show how much taxpayer money gets wasted on frivolous studies that prove facts we already know. Then maybe these scientific journalists will have to start proving things that aren't useless, well-known facts.

Re:Who really needs the scolding? (1)

zazenation (1060442) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698122)

Say ---
Maybe the crackerjacks funding the "sleep mode power study" are ready to take on the next quantum leap and fund a study to determine the energy savings in the "OFF mode".

"Boldly going where no idiot has gone before --- "

Biased journalism may lead to biased science (3, Interesting)

Btarlinian (922732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697458)

Nearly every journalist is biased in some way or another. While journalists may not necessarily inject the bias directly into their story like the example given in the article, the very choice of topic may be indicative of bias. Take for example the Reuters science articles [yahoo.com] on Yahoo! News. Nearly all the articles consist of biology stories or NASA/space related stories. In fact, when was the last time you read a news story in mainstream media on physics or chemistry? It was probably about the LHC or the "Exceptionally Simple Theory". This might be because it is harder to put the same spin on these types of stories. In fact, Garret Lisi's theory is so well known because he's been cast as a brilliant young surfer dude railing against the establishment. (Admittedly, the guy is no where as pig headed and arrogant as the biologist quoted in the article). Even Slashdot seems to be home to plenty of anti-establishment "scientific thinkers" who attempt to claim that nearly every other scientist has got it wrong and dark matter was simply invented to fit into an existing theory*, or our calculations of the age of the universe are complete BS. While I don't claim that the established theories are always right, they are considered to be "established" for a reason: they have a good deal of evidence in their favor.

To get back to my original point however, I would argue that this sort of selective reporting shapes the public view of science negatively. If you only hear about how scientists are wrong, then you might never even believe that they are right. Perhaps of more direct impact to scientists, the fact that the prevalence of this sort of scientific reporting seems to favor biology, can shift the spending of public money. After all, it seems like biologists are making breakthroughs every day and overturning established and outdated ways of thinking while physicists build expensive machines (even condensed matter physics research is expensive) and twiddle their thumbs. There's no excitement in a story that says "BaBar confirms that CP-violation in B-mesons fits within the parameters of the Standard Model" or "Researchers at (insert university/national lab of your choice) discover a method of sub-wavelength optical transmission". But without stories like that, the public sees almost nothing getting done in physical sciences.

Before a bunch of biologists start to flame me, I'd like to note that I don't think that biology is meaningless, or that biologists are pretentious pricks. It's just that journalists seems to draw an excessively large amounts of attention to biology, at the expense of other fields, almost always through no fault of the scientists.



*Dark matter does in fact have plenty of evidence for it. See the earlier Slashdot story of galaxies that don't have dark matter and gravitational lensing in the Bullet Cluster. Dark Energy, however, may in fact be a purely theoretical construct.

Re:Biased journalism may lead to biased science (0, Troll)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697574)

I'm not a biologist, but it's painfully obvious why so much reporting is done about biology.
Specifically, one element of biology. Evolution. Despite the fact that it's been demonstrated in the lab and has been widely accepted as theory in the scientific community for over a century now, there is a massive group of people who refuse to accept evolution because it conflicts with their religious brainwashing.

Re:Biased journalism may lead to biased science (2, Insightful)

Btarlinian (922732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697726)

I'm not a biologist, but it's painfully obvious why so much reporting is done about biology.
Specifically, one element of biology. Evolution.
I don't really think this is the case. The people who don't believe in evolution are unlikely to be reading science articles in their local newspaper to begin with. Besides, controversy about evolution usually isn't covered as part of scientific journalism. I still think that it has more to do with the fact that findings in biology are far easier to sensationalize because they have more to do with us. Whether its gay monkeys==gay people or "A new study shows that large does of vitamin L makes toucans thinner"=>people should eat vitamin L supplements, it's much easier to make biology sensational.

Re:Biased journalism may lead to biased science (1)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698084)

And you think the reporting on biology has something to do with the evolution vs. creationism debate? Most biology reporting isn't about evolution.

I think the amount of biology reporting has to do with:

1. People are interested in what goes on in their own bodies.
2. Many biology stories have a direct health/medicine angle, which people are very interested in.
3. The rest of the biology stories usually have to do with charismatic animals.

and maybe:

4. Biology is often easier for people to understand or identify with than, say, physics.

(Actually, I think the opposite effect is at work in physics reporting: journalists seem to be in a competition to outdo each other in convincing people how weird and non-understandable physics is. You get the Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything and other extremely speculative and exotic ideas, instead of the latest advances in atomic/molecular optics.)

That's about right (1)

porkThreeWays (895269) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697498)

Once a week I have to explain the speed of light barrier was not broken. Anyone remember this story?

It's inherent. (1)

Barbobot (1252798) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697570)

- Journalistic writing style is supposed to be written at about the 5th to 8th grade reading and comprehension level (any journalism student will tell you that.)

- It's fair to say that most science is more complex than that, you know, to understate the case.

- Most journalists aren't exactly rocket scientists.

- Journalists are going to write stories that translate easily to the medium. They're also going to write about what they understand, well, pretend to understand, and even then they often butcher it.

- The "bias" of science journalism is inherent in the format and its production.

- Stories are going to be biased towards choices that can be paired with a rainbow-colored graph with clip art and headlines like, "Cool new ways to beat the summer heat! / Awesome inventions!" or a gloss over of the topic with some side reference to "Star Trek."
Scientific writing is probably best done by scientists who are also gifted writers -- but that's getting off track. Science journalism is going to give you what's catchy, what "pops", what helps sell copies and what sells advertising space -- but also to low intellectual standards, well, it's all related. Of course.

Obvious explanation (1)

deblau (68023) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697572)

Factual newspaper articles on science are boring as hell. That doesn't draw readers, so journalists dig up (or invent) intrigue. I'm shocked no one has mentioned this yet.

Pity so few will see this. (4, Insightful)

Bo'Bob'O (95398) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697598)

It's a pity so few will see this article. It reminds me of something I saw briefly on the discovery channel about discovering Atlantis or something. The point was brought up to the effect "We don't have a lot in the way of resources because the scientists are too afraid what we will find will shatter everything they believe." Now, I know that you can't take too much on TV seriously, even the so called educational channels, but this was downright absurd. Wouldn't any scientist with the slightest bit of passion about his work be -thrilled- to take part, or help a peer with work that would have that sort of impact? It's just sad to see the Discovery Channel airing these sorts of things that completly misrepresent what science is. It's not even the MythBusters sorts of shows that bother me, it's exactly these sort of underdog stories the author is talking about that I think does a huge amount of harm to the education of people watching. It's those sorts of shows that lead people so far astray on what science is that lets the "Intelligent Design" nonsense take
root.

Someone else summed it up much better, though:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
    - Carl Sagan "

Re:Pity so few will see this. (1)

DingerX (847589) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697698)

when, in fact, they only laughed at Bozo.

Columbus is the worst case of this underdog narrative. Many people (evidently Dr. Sagan was one of them) believe A. that he set out to prove that the world was spherical, and B. that the dogmatic 'scientists' of the time believed the world to be flat.

This is pure fiction developed to sustain the myth that scientific and moral progress are intertwined.

Re:Pity so few will see this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22697734)

Actually while some scientists and some within the public like to believe that myth concerning scientists doing anything they can to revolutionize the field they're in, it's true more often than not that a given scientist within their respective field wishes to innovate, but only within limited parameters. Because the more revolutionary the discovery the greater the probability that the discoverer will be scorned and mocked, for example even with relatively simple discoveries like H. Pylori causing ulcers and Prion caused diseases the scientists in those cases faced criticism.

Now looking at your example of Atlantis, just consider if an archaeologist actually found Atlantis, and it demonstrated that an incredibly advanced civilization existed 10,000 years ago.

Do you actually think any archaeologist wants to find something like that which would destroy all that the archaeological community knows about the beginnings of human civilization?

Not a chance.

As I stated, they want to find breakthrough discoveries, but breakthrough discoveries that comport with what is already known in archeology, so instead of finding Atlantis, they would prefer to find a 12,000 year old city that was built according to construction principles that are commonly accepted as belonging to the civilizations of that time. So while such a discovery would be impressive it wouldn't be so impressive as to undermine the archaeological community's fundamental understanding of the human races history.

Re:Pity so few will see this. (3, Insightful)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698264)

Now looking at your example of Atlantis, just consider if an archaeologist actually found Atlantis, and it demonstrated that an incredibly advanced civilization existed 10,000 years ago.

Do you actually think any archaeologist wants to find something like that which would destroy all that the archaeological community knows about the beginnings of human civilization?

For starters, that's really amazing that you know so much about what goes on in the archaeological community, and even more about the private thoughts and motivations of archaeologists. You must know a whole lot of them, huh?

Anyway, on to my main point: OMFG are you high? Any archaeologist finding real evidence of something like that would see gigantic dollar signs and a chance at amazing fame. Even if they were the small-minded and self-centered idiots you paint them to be, I bet the money and fame that would come from such a discovery would still weigh more than the disruption of their precious communi-tah.

(Please forgive me for feeding the troll)

Re:Pity so few will see this. (1)

AndyCh (1153959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698852)

One of the real problems is that the kind of journalism that is talked about in TFA is likely to be found in the most popular elements of the press, and these set up some interesting, and sometime devastating, consequences. You might look at the Andrew Wakefield controversy - where essentially one man (with a number of a alleged conflicts of interest) and a couple of UK newspapers managed to convince a large body of the population that there was a link between MMR and autism and that there was a large body of scientific opinion supporting this. In fact, it was pretty much Wakefield versus the establishment (and lots of evidence), but because he had achieved some level of publicity, people stopped having their babies vaccinated and, probably as a result, children have died in the UK from entirely preventable diseases.
It's the same process which allows ID into classrooms - if people are discussing it, then it must be worth discussing.

People will always be biased. (2, Insightful)

rice_burners_suck (243660) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697668)

I know this isn't specifically about scientific journalism, but I think it must be said. People will always be biased, no matter how much they claim to provide a balanced view. In the end, the writer has an opinion, and this will appear in the writing.

In some cases, the bias is deliberate. The news reporting that you receive on television and in the papers is the best example of materials that are biased. This is done in a rather sophisticated manner. Information isn't necessarily modified to favor one viewpoint over another; rather information is selectively omitted and other information is selectively made more prominent. Anybody who is involved in writing on a regular basis should be well aware that you can state exactly the same thing in different ways, each way favoring one viewpoint over another. This is precisely what takes place in the news reporting, and since its distribution is so widespread, it actually affects the thing upon which it reports. In this manner, the media actually has control over the outcome.

Why misrepresent the facts? For a simple reason that will become apparent very quickly: Take the so-called Mid East Peace Process for example. What peace process? Things blow up everywhere, and have been for decades, and there's a peace process going on? That's news to me! Stop and ask yourself why the problems of the middle east will never get solved, and why so much misinformation circulates about the problem. The answer is obvious: An endless middle east peace problem makes for an endless supply of news, bad news specifically, and good ratings. People tune in to hear about the latest thing that exploded, and watch the commercials in between.

The same logic applies to any sort of reporting, whether the issue is war, social security, illegal immigration, the legality of abortion, or any other issue that seems to perpetuate itself forever with no solution in sight. Once again, the outcome of the reporting causes the problem to perpetuate itself, which makes for job security and good future ratings.

Dumb it down to keep it interesting... (1, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697682)

That's the way it seems to go. If it's science for entertainment you have to leave out the math, over-simplify every idea so that an illiterate red-neck could follow the argument, and preferably have something explode spectacularly. In lieu of exploding chemicals you can occassionally subsitute a story about someone brilliant being oppressed by those pesky scientists that don't understand a thing.

If you want good science at a popular level you do fair better leaving out the popular press. There are some good books out there. Some of them even let math in the door. Take for example http://www.gravityfromthegroundup.org/ [gravityfro...oundup.org]

The article tag is misleading (1)

ConfusedMonkey (1248260) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697792)

TFA is about the myth of the oppressed underdog upsetting the establishment, not bias in scientific writing. It's not "the man keeping new science down" it's just how the scientific review process works. If you come up with a new theory you have to defend it, just like the guy who established the current dominant theory. The entire point of journal review is to try and find holes in a new theory to see if it's a solid model or just a special case.

It's all about the story (2, Interesting)

dj_tla (1048764) | more than 6 years ago | (#22697870)

I'm an amateur science journalist, writing for my university's newspaper. I don't claim to know anything about journalism (just science), but one thing that I continually hear from experienced journalists is that every article needs to have a story. It's not enough to say that a theory that has undergone rigorous testing has now been extended in an esoterically exciting way. As much as the discovery is truly newsworthy, the effort to convince the audience that something is newsworthy in a non-technical forum is usually not worth the effort. However, if there is a narrative behind the story -- a conflict -- then perhaps people will keep reading and be compelled to research the science underlaying the story.

The author has a good point: mainstream media outlets focus far too much on the story and not the science, so much so that they will lie and equivocate to generate conflict. Yet, I would rather see a light science articles that are interesting and easy to read than none at all, as long as the science is actually correct.

"Science is interesting, and if you don't think so, you can fuck off." This Dawkins quote sums up the other side of the argument. It bothers me that people would be so protective and elitist about having science portrayed perfectly in the media that they would rather it not be written about at all. We need to be criticizing the accuracy [themanitoban.com] of science journalism, not its glamorization.

Worship of Ignorance (1, Insightful)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698086)

A significant percentage of Americans have a deep, fundamental mistrust of intelligent people. Scientists learn early not to trust the media, who almost infallibly have to dumb down a complex subject to the point where even an idiot can grasp the bare essentials.

Inevitably, a line is crossed and the real science is distorted to the point of inaccuracy. And the idiot whose attention is being sought inevitably just asks his pastor what he should believe in any case. Where else in the world except the United States is the Theory of Relativity accepted without question, but evolution is "just a theory"?

As long as cracker barrel philosophers with a gift of gab and a few good one-liners are given more credibility than a terminally shy genius with a stutter, science journalism will remain a place where a few stars shine brightly over a vast sea of mediocrity and sensationalism.

By the way...I've worked as a science writer, so I'm not entirely ignorant on this subject.

Re:Worship of Ignorance (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698172)

Oops, sorry. I forgot.

A couple of the moderators around here get pretty bent out of shape if you criticize the US or religion. Doing both in one post must REALLY have got somebody's knickers in a knot. I promise to be a good boy until the next time.

For good science reporting (2, Informative)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698116)

Try Science News [sciencenews.org] . Short, clear articles on new scientific developments and some review articles, and when they do write about sociological or historical meta-issues in science, it's usually done so in a relatively unbiased manner and confined to separate articles.

Bad Summary (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698266)

takes a look at the '2007 Best American Science and Nature Writing' and doesn't like what he finds in an article called Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog.


He didn't like what he found in the article, or he wrote this article to express his dislike for what he found? TFA and some common sense make it the latter, of course, but that sentence could be clearer.

great old column by ben goldacre (4, Informative)

drfireman (101623) | more than 6 years ago | (#22698754)

Ben Goldacre, who writes a regular column on bad science for the Guardian on bad science wrote a great column [badscience.net] about this once, in which he pointed out the obvious-in-retrospect: science journalists don't have science backgrounds. He regularly takes on both bad science and bad science reporting, and his blog/column is a lot of fun to read. Fun in a deeply disturbing way.

The one startling regularity I have noticed across all science reporting is that the more I know about the subject area, the more misleading the article seems. It seems clear this pattern can't be completely limited to science reporting. I cut popular media a lot of slack in terms of glossing over details and simplifying for a popular audience. But the distortions I see are more often fundamentally misleading about the nature of the work and the details that are relevant to the story. Disturbingly, I'm still tempted to believe some of what I read in areas about which I know little. Even more disturbing, I find this mode of reporting seeping into the scientific articles I read and review. I guess this saves the reporters the trouble, but points out one of the many problems with science reporting done by people who have no ability to read science critically.

The one time I was interviewed about my work, I had the sense the reporter already had a story outlined, based on a science-fiction-y reading of the press release, and was basically fishing for quotes to add meat to the story.
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